3-day shutdown call by funeral industry poses serious public health risk, warns Health Dept

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  • The Department of Health has responded to the upcoming funeral practitioners' strike.
  • It has stuck to its guns, saying certification, something many funeral practitioner do not have, will be a must.
  • The striking funeral associations say they have been left by the wayside, while a select few controls this process.

The Department of Health warned the upcoming funeral strike could have serious repercussions for public health.

"This is very concerning as this action may lead to undesired conditions and risks to public health," said the department in a statement released by spokesperson Popo Maja on Sunday.

The call for the shutdown was led by the Unification Task Team (UTT) - a grouping of 17 funeral associations and forums and was planned to begin on Monday, 14 September until Wednesday, 16 September.

During the planned shutdown, there would be no removal of bodies from hospitals or homes and there would be no burials, UTT national coordinator, Peter Matlatle, told News24 on Sunday.

UTT said the South African government had not done enough to ensure the industry was diverse and transformed. It said that since 1994, the industry was still dominated by "white minority capital" and a handful of "black elites".

The department, meanwhile, said it arranged several meetings including two virtual ones in August and one physical one at the beginning of September.

"These meetings were as a result an open letter by the National Funeral Practitioners of Association of South Africa. This is the only association that wrote to the department."

The department maintained that all funeral undertakers and mortuary premises used in connection with the preparation, storage and preservation of human remains "must be in possession of a valid certificate of competence issued by the relevant local authority".

"Environmental Health Practitioners are and will continue to conduct inspections in all funeral undertakers' premises in the country to check compliance to the regulations. Legal action will be taken against owners of premises found to be in contravention," said Maja.

READ | No charges for breach of lockdown regulations at Andrew Mlangeni's funeral - Cele

Maja added that family members were "urged to check the legitimacy of the undertakers and agents being utilised for overall management of the burial of their loved ones to ensure proper tracking and tracing and that the handling of the remains is done with dignity and within the law".

"Environmental Health Practitioners in district and/or metropolitan municipalities can be contacted for assistance on any issues relating to the management of human remains and for advice to ensure compliance to the regulations."

Maja called on the public to report illegal operations.

"[This is] to ensure the public can be protected from potential risks and the spread of communicable diseases as a result of poor management of human remains. We will not allow non-compliance to legislation in this sensitive area. The Department of Health is willing to continue with talks with the funeral parlour sector to come to an amicable solution."

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